I feel obliged to preface this review with some important information: I’m a huge Tintin fan. I own all of the comics, the cartoon series on DVD (apparently it’s on Blu-ray now?) and various other paraphernalia. I was also fortunate enough to visit the Centre Pompidou in Paris when they had the Hergé exhibit back in 2007 (Hergé was the writer and artist who created Tintin). Indeed, I have fond memories of Tintin’s adventures and have long hoped that someone would adapt them for the big screen. Specifically, I always wanted to see an adaptation of ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’, which remains my favourite of the comics.
And thus did the fates hear me. ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ is now a movie, produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Steven Spielberg – the right man for the job. Why? After releasing Raiders of the Lost Ark a French critic favourably compared Indiana Jones’ first adventure to those of Tintin. Spielberg was unfamiliar with Tintin but soon discovered the comics and became a huge fan. At the time, Hergé even gave Spielberg his personal blessing to adapt the series for film.
Suffice to say that I was on board for The Adventures of Tintin from the get-go and it was always going to take something positively apocalyptic to make me cry foul. So perhaps it’s no surprise to discover that I loved the film, but allow me to temper my fanboyish acclaim and offer a more neutral appraisal: Tintin is a fantastic globe-trotting action adventure extravaganza – it’s Indiana Jones, National Treasure and Uncharted all rolled into one!
The plot is based primarily on ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ comic though it also cribs bits from its direct sequel ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’ as well as a character introduction from ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’. At its core it’s a fairly typical treasure hunt story in which intrepid reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his trusty dog Snowy discover the clues that will lead them to the wreck of the Unicorn, a ship that was sunk in the 17th century.
Also after the ship and its cargo is devious Sakharine, played by an unrecognizable Daniel Craig – it’s amazing what they can do with the performance capture technology these days. Testament to this is the Grand Poobah of mocap, Andy Serkis, who gets the revered role of Captain Haddock, an alcoholic sea captain with a penchant for wonderfully creative expletives (he uses words that sound offensive but actually aren’t offensive in their ordinary meaning). There’s more to this old seadog than a colourful vocabulary however, as Haddock proves to be a fallible, relatable grump with ties to the Unicorn’s cursed legacy.
Ultimately, the film is less about Tintin and more about Haddock’s redemption. It’s a good thing too, as Tintin was purposely designed to be a bit bland: he’s an avatar to help readers imagine themselves in his adventures. This means that he can come across as a bit of a static existence on film, which is why Haddock works as an effective foil to Tintin’s boy scout derring-do. But even when he’s without the captain he manages to hold his own, and clever Snowy and clueless detectives Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are never too far behind.
All of the action takes place in a timeless recreation of 1940s Europe. Here, Spielberg takes advantage of technology similar to that pioneered by Robert Zemeckis in The Polar Express, and flexes his directorial muscles to deliver impossible camera angles and astounding setpieces. There’s a particularly extraordinary chase sequence that’s all done in one take without cuts or edits which had me gawping stupidly at the screen, though my favourite scene is still my favourite from the comics – a fierce ship battle on the high seas.
It’s all terrifically cartoony, evoking the simple ligne claire artwork of the comics without falling prey to the dreaded dead eyes of the uncanny valley. There’s even a respectful nod to Hergé himself after the whimsical opening credits; fans should definitely stay eagle-eyed throughout because there are tonnes of Easter eggs.
Underpinned by an equally inquisitive and rousing score from maestro John Williams, The Adventures of Tintin succeeds in delivering fun, exciting adventure and plenty of thrills. With a sequel already confirmed (yay!) it’s safe to say that if you’re looking for Indiana Jones’ next of kin then you need not look further than Tintin.
I saw the movie in 3D and Spielberg’s use of it is impressive but I nonetheless found that it forced my focus to the foreground, whereas the backgrounds were so detailed that I would have preferred a 2D viewing in order to more thoroughly digest the entire picture.